This week I read chapters 3 and 4 from bell hooks' "Teaching to Transgress" and chapter 3 from Stephen Brookfield's "Becoming a Critically Reflective Teacher". bell hooks dealt with multicultural teaching and a conversation with herself examining her readings of and influence by Paolo Friere. Brookfield wrote about using autobiography as a starting point for questioning your own assumptions.
Both authors used these chapters to inform me about themselves, as any good reflective process starts with. We have to know ourselves to know our limits, reasoning, purpose and shortcomings.
hooks touched on an interesting point, one that I have heard before, in that she questions herself about Friere's use of sexist language (and moreso his staunch lack of revision in subsequent editions). She says "I never wish to see a critique of the blind spot overshadow anyone's...capacity to learn from the insights. " It's an interesting position to take. The twenty year old me is outraged with the inconsistencies of such a position, but the forty year old me understands that we all are (too) human and everything has weaknesses and blind spots. It's a bit of a difficult reconciliation, and certainly speaks to me because I missed the male pronouns in Pedagogy of the Oppressed. In my defense, I did read Pedagogy of Hope first, and returned to it more than Friere's Oppressed. I vaguely recall from the introduction of Hope that there was some mention and explanation - which would've occurred after hooks would've published this book. Maybe I just internalized and accepted that Friere and I were speaking as one?
The sessions so far have all pointed that you need to know yourself (as much as one can know themselves at their current age), identify your potential blind spots, expose them. I guess going forward it will deal with strategies to minimize their effect on the class.
I just finished reading this post by Steve Wheeler about learning theories for a digital age. I don't know about whether these new theories are making older theories as anachronistic as he thinks. While connectivism and other learning theories are enhancing our understanding of how humans learn, it's not as if the new ideas render all that old work obsolete. In fact, I think it scaffolds our understanding of education quite nicely. If we go back a mere fifty years ago, there were only a few people interested in explaining how we learn. If we go back a hundred, there were even less. What Dewey said in the 1930's, was amplified by others throughout the 60's and is presently augmented to reflect our current way of thinking in the modern day. Sure, Steve's not suggesting we forget where we came from - at least I hope he's not - but Dewey resonates as an overarching theory as much as connectivism applies to how we learn online. Perhaps that's because the shifting of what an "experience" exists as. An experience in 1930 is different (contextually and functionally) than an experience is today. Our perspective is broader (although our focus may be narrower).
Dewey could never have anticipated YouTube, but in a way we can watch a video on YouTube, experience it, and then attempt to practice it in our own reality. Dewey certainly thought that experiential learning was doing something and learning from it. While we can draw a parallel between watching a YouTube video and listening to a lecture in the 1930's, I wonder if there's enough of a difference between the two (referencing R.E. Mayer's work with multimedia learning, Innis' work with communication theory) that they are cognitively different. Factoring in motivation (typically YouTube videos are viewed with purpose, lectures, well, we all know about them) may have a big difference in whether or not information is retained. I think it's incredibly valuable to return to the foundations of educational theory to ground ourselves and think about what we know.
Brookfield "we discover our voice".
I discovered my voice somewhere around 1986, when I discovered punk. I always felt outside the boundaries of what mainstream culture was offering. I felt that the world had so much more to offer than the way things were - I had (and have) hope for how we live. Education, I thought way back then was the way to make everything better. If only people knew about how good people of different races, genders, sexual orientations were, then we could all get along. Of course, looking back that kind of naivety is charming, cute and a little unbalanced.
What is totally missing is that paradigm shift that I so easily found, in finding my own voice, is the shift that ultimately impedes people. I don't have a lot of problem with change - there are things I can fix, and things I can't. If I can't fix it, I can't exactly spend time worrying about the change that is coming. Change is difficult for a lot of people. I don't hold many absolutes, however I do hang on to a couple of ideas pretty staunchly. One of which is the transformative power of education. Personally transformative - allowing those who are smart enough to get better jobs, make a bit more money, and ultimately do better for yourself. It's why the MOOCs are so appealing, because here's the promise that education has laid out for years - better yourself. Except knowledge is no longer good enough. Especially in a world where knowledge is cheap or free, but accreditation is much more expensive.
bell hooks talks about having to unlearn racism, sexism and one's own biases in the workshops she's run. I think I'm coming to the point where I have to unlearn this given that I've been holding onto for years. I don't think knowing something is good enough anymore. When we have such external financial pressures, you have to prove to someone what you know, and that, my friends, is a piece of paper that costs money. Sure education can transform your outlook, change the way you view things, but ultimately, unless you already hold power, you're not going to be much further ahead. Education however, can't change the economics of the world.
For those reading who are not in Brock University's Adult Education program, I'll be doing weekly (or almost weekly as time permits) reflections on the readings which come from Stephen Brookfield's "Becoming a Critical Teacher" and bell hook's "Teaching to Transgress". If you don't care for these, that's fine, I've categorized them with the tag "ADED 4P91" so you can choose to ignore them in your feed. I suspect I'll try to make sense of how this, and everything else fits with education technology. Maybe it will all make sense, or maybe it will cloud the issue. The course is titled "Power and Pedagogy", which is ultimately what I feel drove me from teaching. What right do I have to tell other people what the best way to learn something is?
Brookfield writes a lot about authenticity and the anxiety of teaching in the first chapter of his book. While I understand why one would want to stress the "authentic", we all perform when we teach (unless we are terrible teachers), leading to what I always question as an "unauthentic experience". We make split second choices to share, or not share, what we think is appropriate, based on what we sense, or even worse what we know. That reinforces the power structure that is explicit, and implicit in classrooms around the world. It's also manipulative, because we as teachers are selective about how the course is run, conducted and all the other minutia we engage in. Teaching is ultimately a manipulative act, to get students, or learners, to do things that they might not do on their own.
hooks on the other hand delves into a more personal exploration about her teaching - which I empathized with. I wonder if the crux of my own personal feelings of what it means to be a teacher; which often have undertones of bettering one's self, climbing social ladders, as a way of escaping poverty or other societal problems, collide with how hooks feels about teaching. I wonder if I have the same crisis of faith every time my assumptions are wrong - much like the incident with hooks and her student who wanted to pledge to a fraternity.
Brookfield spends a lot of time talking about assumptions as well, and breaks them down to their roots and does a great job illustrating how these assumptions set us down the wrong path. I get that assumptions about learners are short cuts we shouldn't take, but in the way education is structured, how can we afford to spend the kind of time needed to truly understand our students?
Assumptions, when wrong can be a catalyst for change. I wonder if that's the subtext of both chapters this week?
I know, I know. Job complaints are rarely the sort of thing you want to read, nor that I want to write. I really don't! I love my job, the things I do which are varied and interesting. I'm at a bit of a crossroads though, I've been doing this job long enough that I worry about the documentation of how to use tools influences the way the tool is used. Quite often the most creative, interesting ways tools get used are in that first few hours of learning how to use a tool - one of the reasons I believe that blogs end up used for a short time, and people abandon them as time wears on - they've learned all that they need to know and with curiosity satisfied, there seems to be little value to them going forward.
So I've been writing lately documentation for Desire2Learn's ePortfolio tool specifically for our instance of the platform. I've put together a diagram that shows the different parts of the layout with pixel dimensions, a guide to setting up the Chrome plug-in, and now a guide to using the Chrome plug-in. In my initial draft, I had examples of how one might use the plug-in, because it seems to me, you have to know why you might add a file, or take a screenshot of a webpage, before you actually do it. Maybe these examples will be held up as some sort of "best practice" or worse still "the way to do something'? I have always strived to write neutral documentation, where it just told you how to do something, with pictures illustrating the concepts. With ePortfolio though, you can do many tasks in different ways, none of the wrong or lesser than another. You can add an Artifact through the plug-in, through the Learning Environment, and there are valid reasons to add that Artifact both ways. You can tag things, you can choose to use collections if you want. You can have a big mess of things in your ePortfolio.
Who am I to tell someone that the way they're doing it is wrong?
Apparently, I'm the one to tell people how to do it. The problem is that I instinctively want to find the most efficient way to use a tool - that's part of my job. With ePortfolio, each path is equally complex (if you let it) or simple. There is no best path, there is no way to do it "right", which again, will frustrate many, annoy others, and please a small few. The design of the tool pleases me ultimately, because I'm fascinated with how people deal with obstacles in learning. Unfortunately, there's a part of me that wants the technology to not get in the way. Maybe that's what my problem is ultimately.
When people are faced with problems they tend to either get collaborative and/or creative. Both of these conditions I love, because frankly the world can use more of both qualities at the moment. Does providing a path for those to follow stunt people's instinctive creativeness? Is there a way with documentation to make it useful without making many decisions on what goes in, and that editing process then leaves alternative paths to grow over and be forgotten? Or is this another way to see who is really creative and thinking differently, because it allows everyone access to the tool, and then those who are energized by it, can take it places I've never thought about?
I've thought about power in it's relationship to students a lot. When I taught I was always uncomfortable with the idea of telling someone something, and having no one question it because I stood at the front of the room. It's the biggest reason I left "teaching". In the greatest irony, now I run training... anyways, it seems like that power structure is nigh impossible to subvert. I had hopes when MOOCs started to appear because it seems like the self-empowerment idea on steroids - but in most instances the students are guided/forced to learn things. At the end (and there's always a start and end to these things), the instructor via the marking of the computer, puts a stamp on your booklet, and you've completed the course. These kinds of MOOCs do very little to disrupt the notion of power in a "classroom", in fact they reinforce the existing power structure entirely. I reckon it's because we replicate the environments we know online, we have a "semester" or course start and end dates, we have teacher telling us what to do, and in what order to do them in. We follow lockstep, because that's the role we expect to be in.
There's the more connectivist MOOCs, and these seem a little more freeform. I know that in the Connectivist and Connective Knowledge and DS106 models, there's more empowerment. Still, there's George and Stephen, or Jim, Alan and Martha at the heads of those MOOCs. Those mentioned will really balk at my idea of them being at the head of those courses and will point to the many others that make them happen (in front of the proverbial curtain and behind), and my statement isn't intended as a slight against them. The personalities of those contributors are key in driving people to those ideas within those courses/events/happenings. Within that structure, people will look to those who champion the idea to guide how they experience it. How does one break that implicit power structure?
I think the next step in breaking the power structure is to set up an open course on a loose subject and have people set their own objectives. Guidance should be given on how to set good objectives, and other's objectives should be ranked/rated using the Coursera peer marking strategy (except up the number of people marking to 5 or 6 to improve the reliability of the results). So if you set up a too easy, or too difficult to manage objective, the crowd can give you feedback on how to challenge yourself or how to manage your expectations. Scalable is important... then students use the tools they have to to find and aggregate content. Using the DS106 model, they can design their own assignments and periodically submit them for peer marking. Pull in Howard Rheingold's work with information reliability on the Internet. Really, the whole thing becomes crowd sourced, content, marking, assessment, how to assess your own learning, setting your own goals, creating your submissions.. everything.
Of course, all this pipe dreaming is predicated on the open web staying open. As copyright lawyers seem intent on locking down information behind paywalls, this approach may not be possible. Hell, it may not be possible now...
I've been thinking a fair bit about the EDCMOOC course that was delivered through Coursera and I want to note what I think went right and what could be improved.
Unlike many of the other students, I like messy learning. The sort of thing where you're overwhelmed with ideas, concepts, thoughts and half-baked ideas, and you muddle through and wrestle with some of the ideas - then pick what you want to focus on, and move forward with that. I wasn't put off by this approach - it's a sound pedagogical approach for me, but clearly not everyone is in the same space as I am.
I really, really like Coursera's peer marking structure (when it works). I would've preferred a more robust scale and rubric, as I'm a bit of an easy marker. There were areas that I was stretching for connections to the content, if I had clearer marking objectives, I probably would've been able to give better feedback. I don't think I gave terrible feedback at all, but it would've been better had I been able to interpret how the instructors (or facilitators in this case) would've liked to see. Again, I know why they chose the path they went down, and I agree with their approach pedagogically, but as a user/student, I needed just a little bit more.
The course has to be considered a success due to the sheer number of resources added to the course - starting out with four videos, and then watching the discussion boards grow with other resources was wild.
I purposefully chose to use other media to contribute, and I'm not sure how successful that approach was - twitter comments I made about the course seemed to be received well; blog posts were less viewed and commented on. I do cultivate my twitter feed much better than my blog, which is a bit sad I suppose. I could've pimped my thoughts and ideas through the discussion board (and a good web marketer would've probably done that for the positive linkbait it would be) but that felt, well, like a late-night TV commercial... I'm not selling a flowbee or a slapchop, in fact I'm not selling anything.
I was motivated by the piece of paper. I never really thought about it, but I was engaged because of the carrot at the end of the stick. Despite how ultimately worthless another piece of paper is, I wanted it. What can I say? I don't have enough trophies in my life I guess.
It was interesting to see how many of the people I follow were part of the EDCMOOC - however that didn't seem to generate any discussion outside of the discussion boards.
I wonder what would happen if all students rejected the peer marking approach. Is that the fault-line that no one will talk about?
I've levelled my criticism of the course on twitter, mostly that I think the 99% of things in between education dystopia or utopian scenarios are far more interesting than exploring the margins. However, I'm a sucker for a certificate, maybe that speaks to the underlying need for acceptance and acknowledgement. Enough self analysis for one day, here's my artifact.
For accessibilty issues, I didn't have time to caption the video, but the script is here:
So you want to talk about technology in education, seeing if it meets your needs for utopia, or dystopia. We could examine the benefits of how each technological advances changes or reinforces education.
We could look at the ways we teach better today with technology, or reinforce the same power system that keep us teaching in a manner that we were taught. Maybe that's right?
Or maybe the conversation should be about finding the words to describe how we're going to make education better tomorrow. Maybe it's about taking time to think and act on how ways we can affect change and make education better. More like one's utopian concept rather than what education currently is.
I typically get asked how long it takes to do these sorts of things - this one minute video took about 12 hours to construct from writing the script, fine tuning words, finding creative commons licensed images and video, creating the title screens in Photoshop and Gimp, selecting a typeface, working with the images and finally putting it together in Windows Movie Maker. Yes, Windows Movie Maker is a great free program for stitching together videos. I created the music using Fruity Loops, there's demos out there and the software has a good academic/student license.
I think it's ironic that the course begins with a dichotomous exchange - let's face it. Utopia and Dystopia claims are usually stretched so far as to entertain or serve some other pop culture needs. In fact, utopia is rarely dealt with in sci-fi because it's inherently boring because it lacks conflict - except in the case of Star Trek where harmonious living exists on Earth, just not in outer space... which speaks to empire and other imperialist machinations.
Anyways, I'm surprised to see this relationship in regards to education - where usually we're navigating the 99% between the polar opposites of the extremes. I sit in the middle with most of these online tools, where how they are used, and intended to be used, is much more important than the potential ways they could be used. Education should be associated with the same things that utopia is associated with - filled with hope, a sense of better things to come. The reality is that perhaps education has become something dystopian - filled with dread, anxiety; crushed by authoritarian, herded like cattle into a room and treated as if one were a (student) number. At least in first year...
Is that because of the education system? Or the shift from education as a human interest to an economic interest? I think society as a whole has shifted from a society focused to an individual focused entity, which is in some part, due to neoliberalism. Recognizing that, and doing something about it is a whole different ballgame I suppose.
The ironic thing is that the course is presented in what might be the ultimate forum for data acquisition (a Fordian notion of efficiency, quantifying what is done, and justifying what you do) - Coursera's platform for MOOCs. The underlying subtext of the first week was certainly exploring the idea of utopia, and in my opinion, you have to relate it back to what is happening within the course context - it's a course about education online. Putting the pieces together, perhaps the designers are saying this is not such a good way to run a course...
Every year I try to do a Questions for the year - themes that I think will be interesting to explore and think about. At the end of the year, I go back and see how wrong I was.
For 2012, the Questions are here.
For those questions here's some answers:
1. Pearson LMS? No big deal. I think the Blackboard free LMS is more important in the LMS space, but Pearson may be doing some things, but nothing big or earth shattering. Of course, a lot of faculty I work with don't use Pearson texts.
2. Web mining useful? Ultimately yes, but increasingly difficult to do. With Twitter becoming more walled off, Instagram way more walled off and Facebook increasingly walled off, it's much more difficult to use something like Ifttt to get something cool to mashup. It'll be interesting to see how open data sources survive, and whether APIs will wither. I'd like to see more open data - I think it's where we'll see growth and interesting possibilities emerge. From an economics standpoint, these sorts of niche areas will be tremendous economic generation in the future.
3. MITx? In and of itself is not that big, but EdX, Udacity, Coursera and the others are making MOOCamania running wild on you. Credentials is still a big thing, but I suspect that's the gateway and where these startups will make their money - partnering with a school who will rubber stamp their findings - or partially rubber stamping credit.
4. Android tablets in Education? Big fart of air. iPads still rule. Android will suffer for the hundred of crappy tablets and lag of killer apps on the platform. For phones, it's fine; for tablets, not so great.
5. Learning Technologists? Still play their/our marginal role.